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Australian island draws gas prospectors seeking pot of ‘gold’ hydrogen

On Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide, a band of former fuel explorers consider they’re on the verge of discovering the holy grail of low cost, clear vitality: naturally occurring “gold” hydrogen.

Luke Titus, a geologist from the fuel and minerals sectors and director of start-up Gold Hydrogen, first had the concept whereas trying to find gold within the Brazilian jungle. There, he stumbled throughout “fairy circles” — naked patches within the vegetation the place hydrogen seeps out of the bottom.

He started researching the geology of pure hydrogen and found that elements of South Australia had been promising exploration websites because of a mixture of iron-rich rocks and salty water, which give rise to a chemical response that produces hydrogen. That hydrogen, the literature recommended, is then trapped underneath a layer of salty carbonate rock, creating a big pure reservoir of the fuel.

“It has optimal geological conditions for natural formation of hydrogen gas,” mentioned Titus. “It’s almost like a purple unicorn.”

Titus trawled by means of authorities archives and located a report that confirmed oil prospectors within the Thirties had unintentionally found wells of virtually pure pure hydrogen in South Australia when drilling for oil.

Almost a century later, with the world making an attempt to wean itself off fossil fuels, the energy-rich fuel is rising as a promising gasoline of the longer term, with pure wells significantly attractive.

Unlike the extra talked-about “green” and “blue” hydrogen, which use vitality and capital-intensive processes to extract hydrogen from water or pure fuel, pure or “gold” hydrogen wants little processing and is probably far cheaper and extra energy-efficient to supply.

“We’re very confident that the hydrogen is there from existing discoveries,” mentioned Neil McDonald, Titus’s enterprise accomplice and director of Gold Hydrogen, the primary prospector to safe a allow from the South Australian state authorities to discover the realm.

He estimates the 9,000 sq km exploration areas, which embody the Yorke Peninsula in addition to Kangaroo Island, maintain 1.3bn kg of hydrogen, which he mentioned was sufficient to “power a million homes for 40 years”.

Others have jumped on the bandwagon, together with a staff of former executives from Woodside. Peter Coleman, chief govt till final yr of Australia’s largest fuel producer, joined as chair of hydrogen exploration start-up H2EX final month.

Mark Hanna, chief govt of H2EX and likewise a former Woodside govt, mentioned he first heard about pure hydrogen two years in the past from contacts in France, the place corporations reminiscent of 45-8 Energy are trying to find the fuel. This led him to learn in regards to the world’s solely productive pure hydrogen area in Mali.

The west African nation’s hydrogen reserve was found unintentionally in 2015 by teams on the lookout for underground water. Canadian group Hydroma hooked up a Toyota gasoline cell — which generates electrical energy from hydrogen — to the highest of the properly and put in a transmission line. The properly now provides electrical energy to the village of Bourakébougou.

Hanna mentioned there was important uncertainty in regards to the viability of pure hydrogen and admitted his enterprise might come to nothing. But he was hopeful, citing the “hydritic” concept proposed by some scientists: that there’s sufficient pure hydrogen within the earth’s core and mantle to provide all of humanity’s vitality wants indefinitely.

“If you believe the hydritic theory and the hydrogen is coming from deeper than the earth’s crust, you may have to drill deeper,” he mentioned, calling this “the holy grail” of pure hydrogen exploration.

H2EX has raised sufficient capital to conduct preliminary exploration. If that’s profitable, Hanna says the group must increase about A$20mn ($14mn) to begin drilling “two or three wells” in essentially the most promising places. Assuming it’s a success, critical manufacturing might then start. But he mentioned that was a number of years away.

Green hydrogen, made by passing demineralised water by means of a renewably powered electrolyser, prices roughly $5 per kg to supply. To be aggressive with fossil fuels, the Australian authorities mentioned that determine wanted to fall to lower than A$2 — one thing advisory agency PwC has mentioned is not going to occur earlier than 2040.

Hanna hopes to supply pure hydrogen for between 50 cents and $1.50. In a world the place inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing prices set the worth benchmark, pure hydrogen might have an enormous benefit.

Many are sceptical. Scott Hamilton, senior adviser at inexperienced hydrogen business affiliation Hydrogen Australia, mentioned that whereas pure hydrogen might have potential, it could must be scaled up inside the subsequent decade.

“The massive drop in solar and wind power means making hydrogen from electrolysis will be dominant in Australia and around the world,” he mentioned.

Still, critical gamers are taking discover of pure hydrogen. US oilfield companies group Schlumberger is working with Gold Hydrogen on its South Australia undertaking, and McDonald mentioned oil producers had expressed curiosity in what he’s doing.

Meanwhile, the CSIRO, the Australian authorities’s scientific analysis physique, is trying into potential pure hydrogen reserves in South Australia.

Graeme Bethune, chief govt of fuel business analysis group EnergyQuest, mentioned the involvement of former oil and fuel folks may instil mistrust, however that was not a sound argument in opposition to it.

While “it’s really early days, and these wells were drilled almost 100 years ago”, he mentioned, if South Australian pure hydrogen reserves met expectations “it could be quite cheap”.

This article has been amended to replicate that Luke Titus is the director of Gold Hydrogen.

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